Some of those against my birds are other birds. A red-tailed hawk who disappeared our littlest Silkie chicken, Olex. Just plucked off the earth by one of her kin, eaten in a tree nearby. The hawk comes back and the survivors cower. We move the fake owl, named Friend, around the yard. Friend generally works as a guardian scarecrow but only when we remember to move him frequently.
It was a hawk, maybe the same hawk, who’d attacked our first pair of chickens. The Polish hen with the goofy white pouf of hair survived, but the Welsummer, named Sheed, did not. She’d hid her wounds and it wasn’t until she started to stink that I realized she was dying. It was cruel to let her go on. We wrapped her in an old towel and took her to an old stump in the back of the yard. I hammered two large nails into the stump and laid her neck between them to make sure she didn’t move. Blake held her down. We thought she’d struggle but she didn’t. She was tranquil. I focused on her neck with the hatchet raised over my shoulder. I didn’t want to hit the nails. I didn’t want to bungle it, to not cut her head clean off.
When it was over we put her body in a brown paper grocery bag and buried her deep in the yard. I collapsed, done having to be tough now, and cried for hours. She was sweet. She loved strawberries and being held. She closed her eyes when she was pet.
I don’t know what creature came at night to kill the others.
In the morning the coop was quiet when I came to let them out and feed them. I lifted the door and no one came out. I peeked in: some were cramped together in a corner. To the left of the coop, I saw Pyramid’s body. She was a big girl, an Orpington, and fat at that, and the pile of her broken body looked strangely even bigger in death, disorganized. Neck ripped, wing spread up straight.
One of the littles, a four month-old Silkie was just gone. Devoured whole, I guess. Crusher—she was our favorite, the fluffiest little.
The coop door hadn’t been locked, just shut, and the thing had wriggled in. A raccoon I guessed, wily. But it could have been a possum or, I don’t know, a cat. Another grave in the yard.
That much death in just a year—four pets. Who could abide such relentless loss?
In the mornings, afraid for our birds against the other birds and the night creatures, I thought about tearing down the coop and selling the remaining chickens. It’s too hard, I thought. The world is against my birds.
The only other bird I’d ever cared for was a dumb little blue parakeet. Mom had given it to me for my birthday, along with a small yellow cage. I remember her tiny claws, her blankness. She didn’t know me. I didn’t really know her. I watched her eat cuttlefish and millet spray. I suffered her irritating shrieks.
The day before we were to take her back to the pet store to get her wings clipped, I brought her cage outside and opened the door. Eventually she hopped out and flew to a low branch on the nearest tree. She chirped a few times, then flew out of sight.
When Mom got home I told her what I’d done, and she laughed. “She’s just going to die,” she told me. “This is Michigan. Tropical birds can’t live outdoors in Michigan.”
Still I imagined the dumb blue parakeet had found a way to migrate to Mexico or somewhere warm enough for her. I imagined she was happy. I was happy.
Now we have four chickens left, and have ramped up security. I want them to be free, and happy, pecking for bugs in the yard, snoozing under the hunched Japanese Maple. But I keep them cooped up. I installed heavy padlocks on the coop. They get baths, watermelon slices, mealworm treats, playgrounds built of firewood. They get more regular check ups from a doctor than I get.
I’m trying to make them free, in their yard, in their cage, in a small plot of the world that still wants to eat them. If it’s possible for me, it’s possible for them.